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Nutrition Column

Misguided Recommendations for Parents of Children recently published a health article urging children with heart risks to be placed on cholesterol lowering medication. The article discusses the recently reformed guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Now, it is recommended that children as young as 8 years old be placed on cholesterol lowering drugs, especially those who have high LDL cholesterol levels. What happened to behavioral modifications including increased physical activity and healthier eating habits?

Dr. Stephen Daniel supports the recommendations because they are based on “mounting evidence showing that damage leading to heart disease, the nation’s leading killer, begins early in life.” He is correct that heart disease is a chronic disease that begins developing early in life, but he jumps to an incorrect and possibly harmful conclusion. Dr. Daniels expresses that “if we are more aggressive about [heart disease] in childhood, I think we can have an impact on what happens later in life and avoid some of these heart attacks and strokes in adulthood.” That is exactly right, but instead of aggressively pushing for more medication, we should be aggressively pushing for more fruits and vegetables, less junk food, and more exercise.

Doesn’t it seem odd that a pediatrician on the AAP’s nutrition committee would push for more medication instead of proper dietary choices? According to CNN, Dr. Daniel’s is a consultant for Abbott Laboratories and Merck & Co., two large pharmaceutical companies. If doctors began prescribing medication to all children with high cholesterol, they would be raking in billions more dollars in profits. In addition, much of the cost of the medication is taken up by the insurance carriers, who ultimately pass along those costs to the consumer and nation as a whole, by increased medical costs.

Another pediatrician in support of the new guidelines claims that “although side effects such as elevated liver enzymes and muscle problems can happen in children as well as adults, this is also something doctors can easily keep an eye on.” In my opinion, she is missing the most important point: these side effects need not exist, especially not in young children. Why pay outrageous drug prices and risk dangerous side effects when you can teach your child about healthy food choices and proper exercise which will eliminate the need for drugs all together?

Diet and exercise can add no additional cost to the daily expenditures. To read an excellent book on the subject of how nutritional changes can completely reverse heart disease and prevent its development you can read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D. A review of Dr. Esselstyn's book is on our web site and the book can be found at most book stores as well as on-line.

Placing children on cholesterol lowering drugs should not be a first option. Instead of featuring articles that will likely confuse worried parents into thinking that their kids need to be taking drugs, CNN and other popular resources should be educating their viewers on how to live healthier lives. With the exception of some rare genetic diseases, excessively high cholesterol and blood pressure is a result of a poor lifestyle. The best way to fix these problems is to change your lifestyle – it’s as simple as that. Popping pills does not solve the underlying cause of the disease and promoting medication use in young children further deters our nation away from what should be its number one priority – eliminating the chronic diseases that plague our children, friends, and families.

Written by Ryan Serrano with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.